Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is a chaotic city with constant traffic. Cars, bikes, scooters, buses, tuk-tuks, people… and definitely not enough sidewalks. It doesn’t matter where you are. There’s always someone honking or rushing near you.
However, this vibrant city is also full of markets, restaurants, trekking shops, handicraft shops, beautiful alleys and squares. It’s a great place to get lost and enjoy the city. Once you embrace the chaos and just go with the flow, you might end up loving the unique character of Kathmandu.
If your time here is limited, maybe because you are here to prepare to do the Everest Base Camp Trek, there are a few key places where you can go. I spent almost a week here and explored most of the main sights of the city. This three days itinerary should enough for most travellers that just don’t have as much time in this beautiful city.
3 day itinerary
Start by going to Durbar Square, the most famous sight of Kathmandu, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly it was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 2015, but there’s still a lot to see.
Getting there is easy since it’s in a very centric location. However, keep in mind that you have to pay to get into the historic centre of Kathmandu. It’s 1000 rupees, around $10, but it might be different now. The money is used to fund the preservation and restoration of the square.
Durbar Square is full of things to see. Just walk around looking at the beautiful temples and stupas or watch the locals pray there. If you are lucky or you prepare your trip in advance, you might even see one of the many festivals they celebrate each year, like Dewali.
After some time in the square and a quick lunch head to Thamel District for the evening. This crowded area is where all backpackers usually stay. The best time to visit is in the evening when it becomes a jungle of lights and neon lights. Many consider Thamel a tourist trap, and while I don’t completely disagree, I think it has a unique charm.Do you want to trek to Everest Base Camp? Thamel is the perfect place to organize it! You can easily get equipment and contact trekking companies in the area.
The district is packed with handicrafts and souvenirs shops. If you need to buy a little something for friends or family, just pop into any of the shops. I spent so much time browsing through the shops here that I lost track of time. It’s just impossible to get bored!
You will also find tons of restaurants here, and it is a good place to have dinner after a long day. I felt in love with a tiny eatery called Momo Hut (pun intended). They serve all kind of momos, also known as Tibetan dumplings. Beef are veggies are always a classic, but they also offer less traditional fillings, including cheese or bacon.
The best way to start the second day is by visiting the Kopan Monastery. It’s a bit out of town, but a cheap taxi will get you there. This monastery is well known for its nice location with a decent view of the city, but also because it’s open to travellers.
You can visit the monastery freely, except the areas reserved for monks, for privacy reasons. If you get inside, feel free to go to the library, get some books and start reading. They have fascinating literature there, including many books in English. The gardens are also a nice and relaxing way of spending some time there.
Have you fallen in love with the place already? Well, you can stay there for a few nights! They offer Buddhism introduction courses and a meditation retirement. If you are interested, don’t hesitate to contact them. They attract a lot of international visitors every year, so language won’t be a problem.
No matter if you want to spend a few days or a few hours there, Kopan Monastery is a great visit. And a good opportunity to find out how a Tibetan monastery works.
From Kopan Monastery you can easily walk to Boudhanath Stupa. You can also take a taxi, but in this area, it might be hard to get one.
This huge stupa sits in the middle of a beautiful square with a very distinct architecture. It is one of the biggest ones in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is closed off, and to enter you have to pay a small entrance fee. However, the square is so incredibly beautiful that it’s worth it.
Go and explore the buildings and shops around the square; you can even get inside some of them! And make sure to go to the stupa to get a better view. The area is also the perfect location to have lunch since there are plenty of options.
Finish the day going to the Pashupatinath Temple, the biggest Shiva Hindu temple in the city. It’s a great introduction to the style and architecture of this kind of buildings if you have never seen one. This huge complex takes a while to explore, to the point where you will find people offering themselves as guides. Of course, hiring one of them is up to you.
As usual, there is an entry fee, of around $10. Depending on your country of origin, the price might vary. If you want to know in advance how much it is, the easiest way is to check the Nepal Tourism Board website.
Here you can see all the traditional rituals, from people washing in the river to burning their dead. Please, be aware that the families doing it are in a funeral. It is extremely distasteful and disrespectful to take pictures of the burning bodies, even from far away.
It’s also important to know that unless you are a Hindu yourself, you won’t have access to the whole temple. Some areas are restricted, including the main building, but you can still get a very nice view of it from the outside.
While Kathmandu has a lot to offer and there are plenty of things to do there, Bhaktapur is just a few minutes away by bus from the city, and you can easily visit on a day trip. This city is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it has some of the best-preserved traditional buildings from Nepal.
You can take a bus from Kathmandu to go to Bhaktapur. The bus is extremely cheap and runs frequently. As usual, ask the locals where to take it, and also which one is it! The lack of signalling makes it almost impossible to find it by yourself.Did you know that Bhaktapur was the capital of Nepal until the 15th century? The kingdom then split in three, and new capitals in Kathmandu and Lalitpur were established
Once in Bhaktapur, you will have to pay an entrance fee to get into the historic centre. It’s probably the most expensive site, at around $15. The area, however, is absolutely amazing, with old wooden houses, pagodas, temples and beautiful buildings everywhere. Don’t miss Durbar square, the Nyatapola temple with its huge 5-story Pagoda, the Bhairab Nath Temple or the Dattatreya Temple.
Keep an eye open for all the metal, wood and stone architecture that makes the city famous, as well as all the tiny sanctuaries. I loved the pottery square, where you can see locals doing the hard job of pot-making, with several shops selling the final results. Bhaktapur is just a great place to wander around, you’ll discover something new in every corner!
Garden of Dreams
Once you are back from your day trip, you can visit the small and cosy but beautiful Garden of Dreams. This beautiful neoclassical garden is very close to Thamel district, and perfect to say goodbye to Kathmandu. You can get a pretty good dinner here as well, although fairly pricey (for Nepalese standards). I paid around $15/$20 when I was there.
Getting there and away
Kathmandu is easily reachable by plane through its international airport. You can easily get a visa on arrival, but please make sure to check the official requirements first.
Reaching the city from other parts of the country is usually not a bit deal. There is plenty of public and private transport. I find buses the best option. They are cheap, and they go from pretty much everywhere. However, keep in mind that they can be very slow! Roads are in bad conditions overall, and traffic jams are a constant. If you need to catch a connection, make sure to have plenty of time. If you don’t know which bus to take (and it will happen) just ask around. Bus drivers usually know which bus to take, or at the very least where to go and who to ask.
Moving through Kathmandu is not hard. Some areas can easily be covered by foot, but there are multiple clusters of sights in the city. To travel between those areas, you will need to take a taxi or a bus. While I find buses handy for going to nearby cities, like Bhaktapur, taxis are a great option when moving within Kathmandu. They are cheap and fast. At least as fast as possible in such a traffic-dense city. Don’t be afraid to ask around if you need more information. People are extremely friendly and usually happy to help.
When to go there
The best time to visit Kathmandu is from September to December. That’s when monsoon season is over, the temperature is mild, the weather is perfect for trekking and you are just in time for the celebration of the Diwali festival. Spring is also a good time to visit for similar reasons.
Avoid summer unless you really like rain, because you’ll see a lot of it. Monsoon season is hot and humid, and most trekking areas are closed. It’s just too dangerous with all the rain and fog. However, prices are low, so if you are in a very tight budget, this could be a good option.
Kathmandu is one of my favourite cities in the world. Despite the chaos and the constant traffic, the beauty of its main sights and spirituality makes it a unique place to visit. I hope this itinerary of how I spent my three days in Kathmandu helps you with your time there. And don’t forget to pin it if you liked it!